change, social change
One of the central problems of sociology . In the middle of the nineteenth century, the first attempts at sociological analysis were prompted by the need to explain two great waves of change that were sweeping across Europe: namely, industrialization , and the expansion of democracy and human rights in the wake of the American and French Revolutions. Auguste Comte , in his theory of social dynamics, proposed that societies progressed through a series of predictable stages based on the development of human knowledge. Herbert Spencer offered a theory of change that was evolutionary , based on population growth and structural differentiation . Karl Marx contended that the most significant social changes were revolutionary in nature, and were brought about by the struggle for supremacy between economic classes. The general tendency of nineteenth-century theories of social change was towards historicism and utopianism .
This century, theories of social change have proliferated and become more complex, without ever wholly transcending these early formulations. In the modern world we are aware that society is never static, and that social, political, and cultural changes occur constantly. Change can be initiated by governments, through legislative or executive action (for example, legislating for equal pay or declaring a war); by citizens organized in social movements (for example trade unionism, feminism); by diffusion from one culture to another (as in military conquest, migration, colonialism); or by the intended or unintended consequences of technology. Some of the most dramatic social changes in modern times have been initiated by such inventions as the motor car, antibiotics, television, and computers. Change can also come through the impact of environmental factors such as drought, famine, and international shifts in economic or political advantage.
Sociologists have explored the question of change largely by the close analysis of particular change processes, and by refining definitions. Social change theories now encompass a very broad range of phenomena, including short-term and long-term, large-scale and small-scale changes, from the level of global society to the level of the family. Dramatic structural and economic changes such as occurred in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union at the beginning of the 1990s are only one part of the field. Sociologists are also interested in changes that affect norms, values, behaviour, cultural meanings, and social relationships.
One legacy of Saint-Simon and Comte, as refracted through the work of Émile Durkheim, is the theory of functionalism associated with the names of Talcott Parsons and Wilbert E. Moore. If society is viewed as a complex and interconnected pattern of functions, change can be explained as an epiphenomenon of the constant search for equilibrium . For example, mass unemployment may generate a welfare system, or racial conflict may generate legislative action. The ramifications of any particular social change are endless and unpredictable, but all can be understood as social adjustments to some failure or ‘dysfunction’ within the social organism.
A systematic functionalist attempt to specify the structural determinants of change can be found in the work of the American sociologist Neil J. Smelser. In an empirical study of Social Change in the Industrial Revolution (1959), he analysed the interrelationship between the growth and organization of the cotton industry and the structure of the family, during the industrialization process in nineteenth-century England. In this early work, a model is proposed to explain the differentiation of social systems, based on an analysis of the way in which these two particular systems responded to forces for change. In his subsequent writings, for example Theory of Collective Behaviour(1963), Smelser both refined this model and applied it to a variety of types of collective action. He conceptualizes social change as a ‘value-added’ process, in which a number of conditions or stages are sequentially combined, before eventually producing a particular social change. This approach minimalizes, but does not wholly ignore, the more proximate causes of social change. A good summary can be found in the essay’Toward a General Theory of Social Change’ (in his Essays in Sociological Explanation, 1968). More recently, his theory of social change has been applied in a study of working-class education in England, in Social Paralysis and Social Change (1991).
Herbert Spencer's evolutionary view of change has its modern descendant in the discipline of sociobiology . Researchers like Edward O. Wilson have presented a view of society that stresses adaptation, but locates the process far more deeply in our genetic inheritance. Sociobiologists argue that we humans are-individually and socially-products of millions of years of adaptive survival strategies. A society can change in positive (adaptive) or negative (non-adaptive) ways, and these choices will seal its fate: thus welfare, or affirmative action, or deficit spending might be good for some, but bad for all. Social survival is the key to the consequences, if not to the purposes, of social change.
The functionalist, evolutionary, and sociobiological conceptions of social change all have conservative implications, in so far as they stress the needs of society, and the protection of a stable status quo above the desires of individuals.
The Marxist and conflict theory traditions have developed along different lines, although they share important underlying assumptions with functionalism. The Marxist theory of change is more pro-active, focusing on the ability of human beings to influence their own fates through political action. Conflict theories in general-not necessarily Marxist-explain social change as the outcome of a struggle for advantage between classes, races, or other groups, rather than a search for consensus. Daniel Bell's Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (1976) gives an interesting turn to the conflict perspective by suggesting that change in the modern world arises out of the tension between three ‘realms’ of social reality which operate on different principles and move towards different goals: the techno-economic structure (science, industry, and the economy); the political system; and culture. Nineteenth-century theorists saw change as a total, homogeneous process, where every aspect of society would change together. We now know that, as Bell's model suggests, change is often uneven and partial.
Cultural lag is a commonly observed phenomenon, where the development of culture falls out of step with developments in technology, politics, or economics.
The problems presented by the empirical study of social change are formidable. Historical data are invariably incomplete or biased, and long-term studies of ongoing change are expensive and difficult. Official statistics , repeated surveys (like the Harris or Gallup Polls), and panel studies are among the tools the student of social change must use.
The nineteenth-century equation of change with progress is no longer widely accepted. Change may be regressive, or destructive, or confused by cultural lag. Ulrich Beck's account of the emergence of ‘ reflexive modernization ’ states that advanced industrial societies are increasingly characterized by ‘manufactured uncertainty’ or risk. It remains an open question to what extent sociologists can explain or predict social change, and therefore to what extent societies can ever reliably initiate or control change in directions deemed socially desirable, or in any direction at all.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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  • change — [ ʃɑ̃ʒ ] n. m. • XIIe; de changer ♦ Action de changer une chose contre une autre. ⇒ changement, échange, troc. I ♦ 1 ♦ Loc. Gagner, perdre au change : être avantagé ou désavantagé lors d un échange. 2 ♦ (XIIIe; it. cambio) Action de changer une… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • change — CHANGE. s. m. Troc d une chose contre une autre. Ce mot n est guère d usage en ce sens que dans les phrases suivantes: Gagner au change. Perdre au change.Change, est aussi Le lieu où l on va changer des pièces de monnoie pour d autres, comme des… …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie Française 1798

  • change — vb Change, alter, vary, modify (and their corresponding nouns change, alteration, variation, modification) are comparable when denoting to make or become different (or when denoting a difference effected). Change and alter are sometimes… …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • change — change; change·abil·i·ty; change·able; change·able·ness; change·ably; change·about; change·ful; change·less; change·ment; ex·change·able; in·ter·change·abil·i·ty; in·ter·change·able; change·ling; change·over; coun·ter·change; ex·change;… …   English syllables

  • change — CHANGE. s. m. Troc d une chose avec une autre. Vous ne gagnerez rien au change. change pour change. ce change ne vous est pas avantageux. Il se dit aussi, quand on quitte une chose pour une autre. Il aime le change. courir au change. Change, En… …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie française

  • change — I verb adapt, adjust, alter, be converted, be inconstant, be irresolute, convert, convertere in, deviate, displace, diverge, evolve, exchange, fluctuate, give in exchange, go through phases, immutare, innovate, interchange, make a transition,… …   Law dictionary

  • Change — (ch[=a]nj), v. t. [imp. & p. p. {Changed} (ch[=a]njd); p. pr. & vb. n. {Changing}.] [F. changer, fr. LL. cambiare, to exchange, barter, L. cambire. Cf. {Cambial}.] 1. To alter; to make different; to cause to pass from one state to another; as, to …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Change — Change, n. [F. change, fr. changer. See {Change}. v. t.] 1. Any variation or alteration; a passing from one state or form to another; as, a change of countenance; a change of habits or principles. [1913 Webster] Apprehensions of a change of… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • change — [chānj] vt. changed, changing [ME changen < OFr changier < LL cambiare < L cambire, to exchange, barter < Celt (as in OIr camb) < IE base * kamb , to bend, crook (> Welsh cam, Bret kamm, crooked)] 1. to put or take (a thing) in… …   English World dictionary

  • change — Change, Permutatio pecuniae, Collybus, Bud. Et la place et endroit de la ville où les changeurs ont leurs boutiques. Selon ce on dit le pont aux changes. Et en fait de venerie Change est l opposite du droit, Estant le droit le Cerf qui a esté… …   Thresor de la langue françoyse

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